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Heart-shaped bowl filled with healthy foods.
The American Heart Association has updated its dietary guidelines encouraging the public to make heart-healthy decisions with their diet.

Heart health highlighted in AHA updates

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Media Contact: Trisha Gedon | Communications Specialist | 405-744-3625 |

For the first time in 15 years, the American Heart Association (AHA) has updated its new dietary guidelines. What makes these changes so important?

“The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. The best way to take care of your heart is to follow a heart-healthy diet,” said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Extension nutrition specialist. “These guidelines are for everyone, not just those with heart disease or a history of it in their family.”

Paying attention to heart health is important all year long, and with February being Heart Health Month, now is a good time to establish a healthy eating plan.

The AHA has taken a new approach to encouraging the public to make heart healthy decisions with their diet. The new guidelines emphasize dietary patterns, not specific foods or nutrients.

Hermann said people often search for the latest diet trends in an attempt to lose those unwanted pounds.

“In reality, you can’t live on cabbage soup and bananas. These new guidelines don’t focus on what you shouldn’t be eating but rather what you should be eating. This helps people develop an eating plan that is customized to their personal preferences and style,” she said. “While the updates at first glance may appear pretty ordinary, the AHA has done a great job with simplifying the guidelines.”

There are nine updates in the new guidelines:

  1. Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight: Being overweight or obese causes strain on the heart, but working toward weight loss with small, consistent dietary changes can make a major impact on heart health.
  2. Eat plenty of and a variety of fruits and vegetables: Whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables and grains are higher in fiber and plant sterols, which are important for gut health and cholesterol management.
  3. Choose whole-grain foods: Select foods that are as close as possible to their original form for maximum health benefits. Whole-grain foods contain all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions, including bran, germ and endosperm.
  4. Select healthy sources of protein: The AHA suggests using plant protein sources, such as beans, nuts and seeds over processed meats. Add fish and seafood into the diet regularly, along with low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry occasionally. Most Americans get plenty of protein in their diets. The new guidelines emphasize the source of the protein.
  5. Use liquid plant oils: The guidelines promote using plant oils, such as olive oil, rather than tropical oils like coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Plant oils are liquid at room temperature while animal fat is solid. Foods containing tropical oils and hydrogenated oils come from packaged and processed foods rather than naturally occurring.
  6. Choose minimally processed foods: Instead of reaching for highly processed foods, the new guidelines suggest opting for something fresher. Some foods, such as low-fat cookies and rice cakes, are processed carbohydrates, which can increase cholesterol. Typically, the fewer ingredients listed on the label, the fresher the food.
  7. Minimize beverages and foods with added sugars: Sugar is everywhere – even in ketchup. Swap cookies and sodas for whole fruits and water.
  8. Buy and prepare foods with little or no salt: It’s difficult to find foods without a lot of added salt unless they are prepared from scratch. Oftentimes, consumers think it’s table salt that is a problem, but the main culprit is the sodium already found in foods. Keep salt intake to less than 2,300 mg per day or less than 1,500 mg for those with high blood pressure. Focus on foods like fruits and vegetables that are naturally low sodium or sodium free.
  9. Limit alcohol intake: It has long been said moderate drinking can be good for heart health, but new research points to alcohol having a negative impact on cardiovascular health. Alcohol is a simple carbohydrate containing empty calories and stimulants that can affect weight, insulin and blood pressure. The new guidelines suggest limiting alcohol.

“The biggest takeaway in these new guidelines is that the AHA understands many people eat out or have alternative sources of food other than their home kitchen,” Hermann said. “These new guidelines can be applied both at home and when eating out. Choose a salad over fries and consider a piece of fruit for dessert. It’s all about making good choices.”

OSU Extension offers additional research-based nutrition information online. Also, contact the nearest county OSU Extension office for more information on the Community Nutrition Education Program that empowers limited-resource Oklahomans to improve nutrition and physical activity behaviors. Programs are available for both adults and youth.

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